Winnipeg beef plant gets new structure

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“If they can make it work, great. We’re in favour of it.”

– Martin Unrau, MCPA

Manitoba’s newest beef processing project has a new name and a new corporate structure.

Natural Prairie Beef Inc. and the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council are joining hands to form Keystone Processors Ltd., which will kill cattle and process beef at a former Winnipeg hog slaughter plant.

Natural Prairie Beef bought the former Maple Leaf plant in July 2008. The deal was made possible by a $2.4 million investment from MCEC, a provincial agency supporting beef processing in Manitoba.

MCEC is funded by a mandatory but refundable $2-per-head checkoff on cattle sold within the province. The province dollar-matches producers’ contributions for a fund to help support beef processing projects in the province.

MCEC has transferred its $2.4 million into Keystone Processors. It and Natural Prairie are now joint shareholders in the project, following a Dec. 4 announcement.

The move allows MCEC to convert shares into hook rights for Manitoba producers, guaranteeing them access to the plant, especially in case of an emergency, such as when the U. S. closed its borders in May 2003 because of BSE, said executive director Kate Butler.

The company is also looking for additional shareholders, she said.

Keystone Processors hopes to begin operating in early 2009. At first it will only process beef at the St. Boniface location and subcontract the slaughter of cattle to provincially inspected

plants elsewhere in the province while renovating its own plant.

Plans call for Keystone Processors to become a provincial slaughter facility in its own right later in the year. It will have the initial capacity to slaughter 170 cattle a day on a five-day single shift.

The company expects to earn its federal licence by 2010, allowing it to export beef outside Manitoba. At that point, it will increase slaughter capacity to 250 a day.

Kelly Penner is president and general manager of Keystone Processors. Penner was formerly the president and CEO of Natural Prairie Beef.

Martin Unrau, Manitoba Cattle Producers Association president, said his group supports the project.

“When I look at the economics of processing and slaughter facilities, it’s not too good right now. But if they can make it work, great. We’re in favour of it.”

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